Volume 75, Number 29 | December 7 - 13, 2005

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

At last week’s meeting on the Jefferson Market Library, Cynthia Crane Story, a library preservation advocate, at left, and Joanna Pestka, New York Public Library vice president for capital planning.

Facade fix is overdue, say Ol’ Jeff advocates

By Albert Amateau

Longtime Village residents last week told New York Public Library officials and elected representatives just what they thought about proposals to redesign the interior of the beloved Jefferson Market Library.

It all boiled down to three little words: “Don’t change anything.”

Neighbors of the former courthouse — nicknamed Ol’ Jeff — also insisted at the Nov. 29 meeting that the deteriorating exterior of the landmarked 1875 building, obscured for the past two years by a construction bridge over the sidewalk, should be restored as soon as possible.

“You’ve got to do the exterior,” declared Cynthia Crane Story, a longtime advocate for library preservation. “If you don’t do it now, you won’t have much of the interior left to save.”

Story and others at the meeting, including Marilyn Dorato, secretary of the Greenwich Village Block Associations, were especially concerned about the construction bridge, erected as a temporary safety measure to protect pedestrians from any falling pieces of the deteriorating limestone trim. They contended the bridge allows snow and rainwater to hasten damage to the facade and provides a cover for public urination.

The proposed interior redesign, particularly the proposal first made public about six months ago for “a teen lounge,” continued to outrage Jefferson Market Library advocates. Although Richard Miller, N.Y.P.L. senior project manager, said the proposal was for a “young adult” area and not at all a lounge, opponents at the forum were against it.

“Teens should be reading adult classics, like we had to,” said Elaine Abse. “They should not be segregated and infantilized.” Abse and others declared there was no need for a teen section in the library and cited census figures for the Village that put the teen population at only 6 percent.

“We don’t want any changes. What’s wrong with the way it is?” said George Sanseverino. The only parts of the interior redesign favored by the crowd were new elevators and better access for wheelchairs.

Closing the library for a year or two during the interior reconstruction would be the worst part of the proposal, residents said.

Kate Seely-Kirk, an aide to City Councilmember Christine Quinn, told the Nov. 29 meeting that the City Council staff was exploring whether the $2 million allocated several years ago for the interior redesign could be transferred to restoring the exterior. “If the transfer is possible, we would probably lose $184,000 already spent for [interior] design,” Seely-Kirk said.

Even if the exterior restoration becomes a priority, construction could begin no sooner than late 2008 or early 2009, according to Joanna Pestka, N.Y.P.L. vice president for capital planning.

The exterior restoration — mostly involving the limestone sills, gargoyles and other facade details — would require approval by the Department of Design and Construction, engaging an architect and calling for construction bids, Pestka said.

However, Doris Diether, Community Board 2 Landmarks Committee chairperson, suggested the project could be done sooner. Diether insisted that the original 1965 restoration plan by Giorgio Cavaglieri, the preservation architect, exists somewhere in city records. “It’s a very good plan and you can still call the architect,” Diether said.

Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said the society would help the library secure grants for the facade repair.

“All this planning has been done without consulting the community,” protested Frieda Seidenbaum. “We saved the building and worked to make it a library,” Seidenbaum said.

A proposed redesign of the reference room was a big concern. “We have a reference room that really works,” said Carol Greitzer, a former city councilmember, “It’s not a place where people pass through to go from one place to another.”

“You’re not going to change that lovely darkness,” said another Villager, who picked up on Miller’s use of the word “stripping” in his outline of the proposed scope of interior work. But Miller reassured the crowd that original dark wood finishes would remain.

The final decision on whether the interior or exterior will be done first will rest with the Public Library after the City Council staff determines budget issues and after consultation with Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane, who as Quinn’s Council predecessor, funded the original redesign seven years ago.

Later last week, Berman submitted to N.Y.P.L. a list of sources to fund the exterior restoration, including a joint program by the National Trust for Historic Preservation/ Home and Garden TV Restore American Grants and other National Trust grants.

Other potential sources include low-cost loans from the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Historic Properties Fund, and grants and loans from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Berman also cited the Preservation League of New York State, the Save America’s Treasures fund, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Booth Ferris Foundation and private sector sources, including Verizon, Deutsche Bank and Independence Community Bank.

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